When you first meet Michael Bedard, he doesn't seem that intimidating. He's 5-foot-4, quiet and wrestles at 112 pounds as a sophomore at Ardrey Kell.
This year, Bedard's opponents will have reason to be worried as he is 28-2 (through Jan. 6) and ranked second in his weight class in the state after finishing third in the King of the Mat tournament at North Davidson in December and winning the Jim Hayes and Mecklenburg County tournaments this season.
Wrestling at 103 pounds as a freshman, Bedard, 16, was the Southwestern 4A champion, made it to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A individual tournament, and finished the season ranked seventh in his weight class, which coach Tim Higgins called the most difficult 103-class he'd ever seen.
This year, Bedard is up a weight class and setting his goals higher.
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"My overall goal is to get 200 or 250 wins by my senior year," he said. "I'm trying to get to at least the finals of states this year."
Bedard had a head start coming into Ardrey Kell. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn't offer middle school wrestling, so most high school freshman have no experience.
"We tend to not get kids with experience," said Higgins. "(Michael) and his brother (Mark, who is a freshman at Ardrey Kell) have been wrestling for years, so I expected them to do very well."
Bedard started wrestling for various clubs around Charlotte and at Holy Trinity Catholic Middle School in sixth grade after his dad, Edward, who wrestled in high school, got him into the sport. Bedard used to play soccer but began focusing solely on wrestling. At first, Bedard said he thought about quitting, but his dad helped him keep going.
"(My dad) loves wrestling," said Bedard. "I actually wanted to quit my first two years, but he kept me on it and got me to do things like push ups to get my strength up. He takes me around to tournaments all over the state, which really helps."
One thing hooked him on the sport: winning.
"At first I was losing all my matches, then when I was in seventh and eighth grade...that's when I really started winning a lot of matches," he said. "When you start winning it starts to become more fun to do it."
Bedard had fun last year, going 33-6 in his matches.
Bedard's transition to Ardrey Kell wasn't perfect, though. After going to a private middle school, Bedard said he didn't know anyone at Ardrey Kell.
"It didn't seem like I liked anyone because I didn't talk very much," he said. "At first it was really awkward not knowing anyone. As it went on I got warmed up to everyone a little bit."
"He is quiet; you don't really get a whole lot out of him, but he's a hard worker," said Higgins. "He's everything you want as a coach; he doesn't back talk or anything."
Now Bedard is working to improve his skills and learn new moves to keep from being too predictable.
"I think his (ability from the) top (position) is pretty good," said Higgins. "He's got all the tools he needs from neutral, but he doesn't pull the trigger often enough in my opinion....My personal goal for him is...getting tougher on the bottom (starting position). Once his bottom game gets to the next level, he will be extra special."
Higgins is looking for someone to step up after Ardrey Kell lost junior captain, Zack Blossfeld, to a broken arm early in the season.
Higgins has coached at Ardrey Kell since it opened in 2006 and said the team has continued to get better. The Knights (10-5) won the conference last year but lost two state placers - Jeffrey Stevenson and Jordan Nevesta - from last year's team. They've already lost two conference matches this year.
"We've regressed a little bit from last year even though as a team I think we're better," said Higgins.
As Bedard continues to improve, Ardrey Kell should just get better.